Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On strategy & tactics: Neither pacifism nor violence fetishism

I don’t particularly give a damn about bourgeois or corporate property. I will shed no tear over a smashed window of a multi-billion dollar corporation. Nor will I feel bad for the owner of a police car destroyed by any group of protesters.

However, there is a difference between one’s abstract ideological sympathies, on the one hand, and the strategic application of concrete tactics in struggle, on the other. The tendency by some would-be ‘ultra-leftists’ to fetishize violence and property damage in all circumstances, is highly dogmatic, counterproductive, and ultimately undemocratic in the extreme.

In this way, the proponents of ‘propaganda of the deed’ who fetishize violence and provocative confrontation as the ’end-all, be-all’, are merely expressing the inverse of the irrational, undemocratic dogmatism of those pacifists who ceaselessly preach ‘non-violence’ in even the most revolutionary of circumstances.

I am a firm believer in the importance of mass, democratic struggle. At an early stage of the development of a struggle, this may mean nothing more than a peaceful, mass march. At another stage (for instance, see Egypt’s revolution or the 1992 L.A. Rebellion), this may mean physically attacking police, reactionary businesses, or political party offices.

The question in the end is simply one of accurately assessing the current mood and desires of the mass base of the movement and figuring out what tactic at a given juncture is best suited to both express the mood of the majority, while also seeking to push things forward as far as that majority is willing to go at that moment.

It does no good if you as an individual are ready to set up barricades in the streets and commence with a revolutionary struggle for power, if the mass of people are not. In fact, it actually tends to have a counterproductive effect, inviting mass repression by the police while also arresting or even retarding the process whereby masses of people are drawn into closer contact with and affinity for the more revolutionary-minded among their ranks.

Militancy itself is neither a talisman nor a curse to the beholder. When applied at the proper moment, it can at most be a midwife to social revolution; but when applied prematurely or in the wrong place, it can often lead to a miscarriage of the struggle.


  1. I've read some Derrick Jensen as of late, and he's a believer in violence...

    He says that the traditional pacifism of the Left - and he "blames" Gandhi and MLK - falls right into the power structure's net by refusing to use violence in any circumstances. Self-defense on a societal level becomes necessary at some point, according to this line of thought, or else those in power will have no qualms about rolling right over the protesters...

    I'm mote than a little uncomfortable with that. I tend to agree with you here. But I'm not sure where the line is...

    1. Katy,

      I agree with you at least that line between pacifism and its opposite is a fine one, viz., under what circumstances is it appropraite to employ physical means to achieving one's ends, be that as a form of self-defense or as a means of mass libreation.

  2. i think IF, and I hope WHEN society is really ready to free itself from the proverbial chains of the capitalist political system it is first real damn prepared with
    A) a united and global socialist MAJORITY PARTY comprised of elected and immediately re-callable leaders who have earned, not purchased, their authority. and
    B) the willingness (NOT the WANT) of that party's voluntary worker's army and to physically defend what has been democratically decided is the majority's priority and the best decision for humanity at large.

    In other words, given the above conditions stipulated,i agree with Joan. Self defense is justifiable violence. however, if society is not ready- and it is NO WHERE NEAR ready (yet)- any violence displayed by anti-capitalist (or anti-anything) protesters serves as a step back for the cause, as it enables the media to demonize and scapegoat activists, frightening average citizens and demolishes future potential recruitment of people willing to even to use the term socialist party in mixed company. Be smarter now, more patient and involved and all of humanity may benefit in the end. By whatever means necessary does not imply "by whatever means if you're all mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore".

    and so: to violent protesters in TODAY's america- i say put down the Miller lite bottle/gasoline and a rag -you're making us all look foolish...cops have fire-retardant pants, and are fucking working class folks, just like you, me and the person who has to bail you out of jail. work smarter, louder and far more effectively - or not at all please. Let's hope someday you will make a fine general, comrade. thanks for hearing me out.